Tuesday, March 17, 2015

F a u s t -- The Story


The Deal with Mephistopheles

Faust curses his books and his papers and wishes he could get out. He is a university teacher. He  considers suicide but is held back by childhood memories.

A few weeks later, around Easter, he goes out for a walk. A black poodle follows him home. The black poodle turns out to be Mephistopheles -- Faust's own Greek version of the devil.

Mephistopheles is a most entertaining elderly cynic dressed up as a gentleman who has come to offer Faust a deal: "I will show you the wonders of the world, and in return, when you die, I will intercept your soul when it leaves your body."

Faust accepts.


Traveling with Mephistopheles

They travel and end up at a beer cellar where Mephistopheles produces free wine for everybody by drilling holes in their table.  Faust tells Mephistopheles that he did not sell his soul for that kind of show.

So Mephistopheles has to work hard to help him seduce a teenage girl called Gretchen who gets pregnant

and in despair drowns her baby. She faces the death penalty. Mephistopheles comments: "She is damned".
From Heaven comes an answer: "She is saved".

Isolde Dychauk as Gretchen

 That is where the first part ends. It is easy and great reading........ but only in German


Faust II

Even Goethe said he knew it was too difficult for most readers, because it is full of Greek mythology and German witchcraft, but I did read its most famous passages:

at the time when I wrote this I had only read the most famous passages.

The thumbnail shows Dr Faust at home  receiving advice from the devil.
It is from the shadow theater at 

The Flood of Paper Money

Mephistopheles becomes the court jester of a bankrupt Emperor.

Overnight he prints a ton of paper money.  In the morning, the Emperor and all his subjects celelebrate their new wealth.

For additional entertainment, the Emperor asks Faust to bring in Antiquity's most famous beauty, Helen of Troy.** Faust asks Mephistopheles to go and fetch her up, but Mephistopheles bows out saying he is well acquainted with the Christian underworld, but not with Pagan institutions.

**Helen arrives from the beach speaking in free verse so beautiful that it makes (some) readers jump and shout olé. Heinrich Heine said it was the only good thing in that second part of Faust, but there he was wrong. 

**Added March 15, 2017
Yes, Heine was wrong, and it means necessarily that Heine did not read the later scenes, did not see them, "scrolled" too fast, for otherwise he would have taken his beret off to Goethe's story of the silver bell (I know that he did not enjoy bells in general, to him they were "Hundegebell" :-). -- And he would have enjoyed Goethe's invention of Mephistopheles getting cheated by the angels. -- All of this is hidden under miles of cheap verse.

Later,  Helen, coming home after many years travelling abroad, she is not sure whether her husband will behead her. She has no objections. (!)  Evidently, I will have to read this again, for I cannot believe it is really this way. 

**Added March 15, 2017
 No, it is true. Unbelievable. She is portrayed as supremely elegant, controlled, but she finds it possible that her husband asks her to get everything ready to be beheaded, including water to clean up the mess. And she accepts it silently, but then accepts help to escape. -- Socrates accepted deathsentence passed by anonymous citizen's majority vote, but then refused help and did not flee, but died.

Angels to Seduce Mephistopheles

Faust is dying, and Gretchen, from Heaven, sends angels to Faust's deathbed.

Mephistopheles, too, arrives to try and catch Faust's soul according to their agreement, and  he lets it escape because he gets dazzled by the splendour and beauty of the angels.

It is a good example of Goethe's cosy paganism. He turns the Christian view of death into a pretty joke.


Text samples

Faust in his study room:  

Goethe's text beside a modern transcript:


Goethe reached perfection in his verse so early and easily that later he must have felt bored. He ended up producing too much of it. To get to the end of Faust's life I had to scroll down, down down:

Death of Faust

Remember Faust's bet?

He had said that if ever he enjoyed any moment enough to let it linger, Mephistopheles could have his soul.
Well, Faust was still at the Emperor's court and had become powerful. He decided to push back the sea and claim the land for the many. Faust imagined that watching all those people take possession each of his plot would make him so happy that he might ask time to slow down....

The project was hampered by the little bell of a chapel that interfered with Faust's peace of mind and two old people who lived in a hut. Faust envied them and ordered that they should be paid off and removed.  When they objected, Mephistopheles had the place torched:

"Auch hier geschieht, was längst geschah,
    Denn Naboths Weinberg war schon da."

It's Mephistopheles quoting Scriptures !
meaning "here, too, all is déjà vu, all is old news": to obtain the site, Mephistopheles means to kill the old couple as Ahab had done to obtain Naboth's vineyard.

When Faust heard that the two old people had been murdered, he cursed it all, but started on a new project and died.


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